PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island House of Representatives is set to vote Wednesday night on legislation that aims to fund road and bridge repairs by levying tolls on large commercial trucks.
House lawmakers took up the much-discussed proposal just after 4 p.m. Wednesday and were still debating as of 10 p.m.
The bill contains a cap of $20 for trucks to cross the state one-way, with a $40 daily cap.
Representatives debated different amendments for hours Wednesday, including restricting the state from building more than 14 toll facilities, which was voted down.
A major change that did pass clarified the type of trucks that would be tolled. The amendment restricts tolls to large tractor trailers, as defined by a federal statute. They also must be pulling a trailer. Previously, the bill restricted tolls to Class 8 trucks, which opened up concerns about combination vehicles.
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Both the House and Senate finance committees were quick to approve the legislation known as RhodeWorks Tuesday afternoon after hearing testimony from supporters and critics last week.
As expected, critics such as the American Trucking Association (ATA) were not happy with the approval, saying the decision could drastically change the routes that truck drivers take through New England.
“There’s no reason to go through Rhode Island if you don’t have a pickup or delivery in Rhode Island,” said Darrin Roth of the ATA. “There are other routes that are quicker that are less mileage. This will give trucking companies even more incentive to just not go through Rhode Island.”
The proposal would fund sweeping repairs in two ways: by borrowing $300 million against future federal highway funding and refinancing old borrowing to yield an additional $120 million; and by imposing a new toll on large trucks, expected to bring in $45 million a year when it’s up and running.
The bill passed the House Finance Committee by a 14-4 vote and the Senate Finance Committee by an 8-2 vote on Tuesday.
Some of the proposal’s most outspoken critics since the beginning have been House Republicans, who have offered up alternative plans to fund bridge repairs. However, not all Democrats agree with the fast-moving legislation, either.
Rep. Michael Marcello, D-Scituate, said he’s received more negative feedback about the toll proposal than any other major legislation discussed in recent years, including controversial topics such as the 2011 pension law and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
“What I hear is the bridges and the roads didn’t get into this condition overnight. What’s the rush to fix them right now?” Marcello said. “Let’s ease it in. Let’s use this opportunity to raise the revenue, pay for what we can afford, show the constituents that we can actually fix these bridges under cost, on budget, help build that trust, and then maybe perhaps consider tolling in the future. But right now, there’s just this feeling that it’s much too soon.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo continued responding to critics Tuesday, as she’s been doing since she first unveiled the proposal last May.
“Every day, people say to me, ‘Governor, fix the roads, they’re in terrible condition,'” said Raimondo. “There’s no easy solution. Roads and bridges don’t fix themselves. They cost money.”
Spokesmen said final votes will take place when the full House meets Wednesday at 3 p.m. and when the full Senate meets Thursday at 2 p.m.
Democratic leaders hope to have the approved bill on the governor’s desk by the end of this week.